The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) released animation of what it hopes will be part of the future of unmanned flight. (YouTube/DARPAtv)

It takes off vertically, relying on two-dozen fans to soar over the countryside and change directions quickly. It uses generators to boost power, creating what is said to be an unusually efficient design. And it can fly up to 460 mph, faster than the MV-22 Osprey, another rotary aircraft that the U.S. military now touts for being faster than conventional helicopters.

It’s called LightningStrike, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency just unveiled video of how it could someday work in combat. The agency selected the unmanned aircraft’s design for the second phase of its unmanned Vertical Takeoff and Landing Experimental X-Plane (VTOL X-Plane) program, it announced along with Aurora Flight Sciences of Manassas, Va., which won the contract.

“If successful, VTOL X-Plane’s radically improved flight capabilities could lead to revolutionary advancement in the U.S. military’s future mission capabilities,” said John Langford, chairman and chief executive officer of Aurora, in an announcement Thursday. “We’re honored to have been selected by DARPA to build and flight test the demonstrator aircraft.”

Aurora teamed with defense contractors Honeywell and Rolls-Royce, Aurora officials said. It could build on efforts like K-MAX, an unmanned cargo helicopter the Marines Corps used to carry supplies in Afghanistan. LightningStrike will have a Roll-Royce turboshaft engine that powers three Honeywell generators, Aurora officials said.

DARPA and the contractors want to begin testing the flight demonstrator aircraft in 2018, they said.


This artist’s rendering shows what the LightningStrike could look like in the field. (Aurora Flight Sciences)

An artist’s rendering showing what a future vertical takeoff X-Plane could look like. (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)